Paper Walls Keep Immigrants Out

paper wall

Trump’s wall-building obsession knows no bounds when it comes to keeping out immigrants. Though his attempts at building a physical wall continue to fail spectacularly, his administration continues to erect one administrative wall after another. Again and again, these bureaucratic paper walls specifically bar refugees and asylum seekers.

The most recent attempt conflates public health and national security. A proposed regulation appeals to fear and ignorance, claiming that asylum seekers pose a particular pandemic risk. There’s no evidence for this claim, and any risk could be mitigated by a quarantine period. No matter: the regulation bars all asylum seekers during the current pandemic, and at any future time that the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security decide that some disease “is a communicable disease of public health significance” and that it is “prevalent or epidemic in another country or place.”

The shortened 30-day public comment period for this regulation ends on August 10. (Click here to make a comment opposing the rule.)

The proposed regulation would not allow asylum seekers to present their cases before a judge. It would also bar them from another kind of protection called withholding of deportation. Even if they are victims of torture, this regulation would not allow them any protection in the United States.

If you think that sounds like a violation of international law, human rights, and U.S. law—you’re right.

This proposed regulation piles on top of a whole list of other regulations that make immigration difficult or bar immigrants outright. For a comprehensive list, check out the Migration Policy Institute’s report, Dismantling and Reconstructing the U.S. Immigration System: A Catalog of Changes under the Trump Presidency.

Trump targets refugees and asylum seekers in particular. Two recent examples show how current policies work.

The first is the story of a young girl who was held incommunicado in a secret location and then expelled from the country.

“A teenage girl carrying her baby arrived at the U.S. border this summer and begged for help. She told federal agents that she feared returning to Guatemala. The man who raped her she said had threatened to make her ‘disappear.’

“Then, advocates say, the child briefly vanished — into the custody of the U.S. government, which held her and her baby for days in a hotel with almost no outside contact before federal officers summarily expelled them from the country….

“Of the thousands of unaccompanied minors expelled under the health order, advocacy organizations said that they have only found about three dozen after months of searching across the United States, Mexico and Central America.

“The Guatemalan teenager is one of them. She told child protection workers in Guatemala that she was sent to an American hotel with her baby for days and allowed only a brief call with her father in the United States. Then she and her infant were flown to Guatemala, where her case so alarmed international refugee groups that they referred her for protection in another country, determining that she was in peril. Advocates would not provide her age or other personal details to protect her.”

The second is the story of a transgender woman who fled prejudice and persecution in El Salvador. The United States denied her asylum and sent her back, and she was killed by Salvadoran police.

“Diaz left El Salvador in 2018 and traveled to the U.S. with a migrant caravan to request asylum, as NBC News previously reported. After her claim was rejected, she went back to El Salvador where she reportedly returned to sex work. After midnight on Jan. 31, 2019, she was arrested for public nuisance and intoxication.

“According to El Diaro De Hoy, she was beaten by the arresting officers in the patrol car and left in the road for dead. She was found and later taken to a hospital where she died from her wounds on Feb. 3, 2019.”

Although refugees and asylum seekers are particular targets, Trump administration regulations take aim at even highly skilled workers and now impose extremely high fees for naturalization, which will keep long-time immigrants from becoming citizens.

Concrete and steel border walls may be built on shifting sands or falling to floods and high winds. The paper walls grow higher and thicker every day.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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